Gotham Academy: Cloonan & Fletcher On Women, Children And The Future Of DC’s Batman Line [Interview]
DC Comics' upcoming Gotham Academy by Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl is one of those ideas that's so good that it's amazing that it took a full 75 years of Batman comics for it to actually happen. Set in a prestigious private school in the middle of Batman's hometown, Gotham Academy will debut this October following the adventures of two young students at a private school in a city known mostly for its truly staggering population of supervillains.
One assumes that hijinks will ensue, but to find out more, ComicsAlliance's Juliet Kahn spoke to Cloonan, Fletcher and Batman group editor Mark Doyle at San Diego Comic-Con.
ComicsAlliance: So, Gotham Academy. Personally, I'm really excited. I know you've talked here and there about how it's going to be aimed at a younger audience, a different kind of book. It personally reminds me of a lot of properties I've seen teenage fandoms spring up around, Young Avengers over at Marvel a while back, a lot of Warner Bros. Animation's DC Comics material. Are you expecting a fandom?
Brenden Fletcher: I don’t have any expectations. We're making the kind of book that we want to see and we really hope it catches on. We don't have an expectation, we have a hope that people will read it and fall in love with it. They're new characters, there's so much to fall in love with here.
Mark Doyle: New characters but all with great backstories that will unfold and even though they're new, it'll feel like they've been in Gotham this whole time.
Becky Cloonan: This is definitely the kind of book that I would want to read as a kid. So it's kind of great to have that opportunity. I think it's going to find it's audience once we put it out there.
CA: Are there any particular influences you're looking at? Comics, TV, movies that have accomplished similar goals, or tone and genre?
BC: I think the obvious one is Harry Potter. It's got the right sense of mystery, it's fun and has a gravitas to is and a mythology. Another one is Batman: The Animated Series. That's another one, it's kind of a touchstone for us, especially with this story. That noir sense... there's a lot of serious story but at the same time there's a lot of fun and there was a lot of comedy and a good mix of it.
CA: You guys have worked in a variety of genres, for different publishers, all kinds of different work. Becky, what you're working on now, this, Killjoys, self-published stuff. What do your more unique experiences bring to Gotham Academy? Stuff that really is beyond what you normally see with mainstream superhero stuff?
BC: I'm always kind of caught between this "oh you're too indie doing mainstream" or "oh you're too mainstream to be indie." It's this weird line I've always seem to have walked. And it has worked well with Vertigo. I did American Virgin with Steven Segal and did some American Vampire work. With Killjoys, the place for these kinds of books is growing. We're seeing a growth in the market so much that now even in Gotham there's a place for stories like this. It's nice to be able to have done enough work in the past to get to this point.
CA: Can you tell me about some of the main characters of Gotham Academy?
BF: Olive Silverlock, our main character.
BC: It's her second year at Gotham.
BF: Her first year was fairly sunny, fairly bright. She doesn't come from a really wealthy background so getting to go to this prep school is a wonderful experience for her, was a wonderful experience for her. Her grades are fantastic, loves books, was in the school play, dating the tennis star and then something happened in the summer that changed her world. It's impacted her relationship with the tennis star in a negative way. It's impacted the way she feels about the school and it may have had some disastrous change on her life. That's one of the main arcs of where it's going. What happened to Olive? What is that going to mean for her future and the future of all the students at Gotham Academy?
BC: And her best friend, her name is Mia Mizoguchi, her nickname is Maps because she's obsessed with cartography, is one year younger than her, a freshman. So excited to be here. So happy. She's Olive's ex-boyfriend's little sister. So it's a little awkward.
MD: It's complicated.
BC: It's a little complicated. She comes in and Olive has to show her around and now Olive is thrown back with this old friend of hers and they have to figure out how to be friends again. There's some weird things happening at this school. The north hall is off limits and no one knows why. There may or may not be a ghost that's been sighted around campus. So there are a lot of mysteries to uncover.
MD: A lot of deep connections to other things going on in Gotham. That's where the characters really start to uncover darker mysteries.
BF: That's something I'd stress too. The look and the feel and the tone of this book might look like it's wow, it's a different thing or it's own thing and it's not, you'll see as the story plays out that it's very much in the Batman universe. Things that happen in Batman Eternal actually have a big impact on Gotham Academy. So it's all a totally shared universe.
BC: But you don't have to read if you're not reading, or too young to read Arkham Manor and you want to give this to your younger sibling, this is totally on it's own, it makes sense.
BF: That is definitely part of continuity.
BC: It's in continuity, for sure. I think the more you read it, you get more of a richer experience.
CA: I dont know how much you can divulge here, given spoilers, but it sounds like there will definitely be - this isn't going to be a straight realism book. Is Gotham Academy going to lean on any side between fantasy, sci-fi, conventional super-heroics? Batwoman has been kind of a horror-paranormal book at times. Gotham Central in the past is more like gritty crime drama. They all take different genre elements of the DC Universe, can Gotham Academy be classified in any of those ways?
MD: I think it's its own thing but it's definitely born out of Batman's world, which is solving crime and solving mysteries. It's reminiscent of something like a Nancy Drew or and I hate to say it, because it's not, but there's a little bit of Scooby Doo in there, you've got a bunch of kids solving mysteries that have kind of a supernatural element to them but that's probably subjective.
BC: It may or may not be supernatural. There's a little bit of the Mulder and Scully, how much do you want to read into this? Is it a ghost? Something else? Can we explain it? So you see different characters reacting to these mysteries in a different way.
BF: Some characters will believe things are supernatural, other characters will believe it's something practical and we can track down the source of this problem.
CA: Am I correct in thinking that the two main characters Olive and Maps are both people of color?
BF: I'd say that the four main characters are in fact people of color.
BC: Olive we don't even specify if she's a person of color but there's no definite --
MD: We don't say an ethnicity, no.
CA: Was that a conscious choice or did it come more naturally?
BF: It was the way it was but we're also always conscious of creating diverse casts. It's not about meeting any sort of line of standards for diversity, it's just about reflecting the world we live in. That's the world we live in in Montreal.
BC: Growing up, my four best friends, we all drew comics together. Two were Korean, one was from Trinidad and one was Puerto Rican. It was always kind of natural, all hanging out drawing comics and it was -- it's not like, oh we have to make these characters diverse. It was, well that's the way the world is now.
CA: With Gotham Academy and Batgirl, we're seeing a slightly different direction for the Batman corner of the DC Universe. Going after a different demo, bringing on nontraditional talent like you and Babs Tarr. What is the future looking like for Batman, what's going into these decisions?
MD: Well, it's the 75th anniversary of Batman right now and 75 more amazing years is what I would say for it. I can't talk too much about what's going to be happening, future-wise. What I will say in terms of doing new things on the books, my goal with the books is, I want a Batman book for every fan and every genre. There are so many different things you can do with Batman and the Batman universe and all these characters really hold up to different genres, whether it's sci-fi or more of a younger feel, we can do all of this stuff. The Batman stuff still holds up to it.
CA: I feel like you guys are part of sea change in comics towards all-ages fare, something that might resonate more with female readers. I'm thinking over at Marvel, Ms. Marvel, Loki: Agent of Asgard, things like that. Do you think this is happening?
BC: Definitely. Look at any comic convention. You're seeing 50/50 split and women are there. Ladies are the largest growing demographic of readers. And if we encourage young girls to read comics at a young age, we'll encourage them to start creating comics and it'll just make for a healthier, more diverse industry in the future. One where everyone can read comics. Hopefully this is a tradition they'll carry when they grow up and pass on to their kids. Hopefully this is a start of something really big.
CA: Brenden, you're a new name to many DC readers. I know you're doing some work on Assassin's Creed, I think. How do you feel about jumping in with everything you're going to be doing at DC?
BF: Well, I've been around for a while. I've done some work for DC in the past. The last thing I did before coming on to this was Wednesday Comics with Karl Kerschl. Then I moved into doing more video gaming stuff. But this is amazing to be back. It's amazing to work under the crop of Mark Doyle keeping me in line.
MD: We're suddenly best friends and we didn't know each other two months ago.
BF: I didn't know Mark a few months ago and now we talk every day. So, in addition to being able to create incredible new stories, characters that we're really excited about. I got new friends out of this, too. It's incredible to be a part of this wonderful community. It's like this little family.
CA: That's nice! That makes me optimistic about the book.
BF: I'm not just saying that. These people are some of my best friends.